by Albert Camus
The Plague Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Part.Chapter.Paragraph). We used Stuart Gilbert's translation.
A word was echoing still, the word "plague." A word that conjured up in the doctor’s mind not only what science chose to put into it, but a whole series of fantastic possibilities utterly out of keeping with that gray and yellow town under his eyes, from which were rising the sounds of mild activity characteristic to the hour; a drone rather than a bustling, the noises of a happy town, in short, if it’s possible to be at once so dull and happy. (1.5.6)
While we’re debating words, what’s up with "happy?" Rieux uses it again in the very last line of the novel…
"Well," he said, "perhaps we’d better make up our minds to call this disease by its name. So far we’ve been only shilly-shallying. Look here, I’m off to the laboratory; like to come with me?"
"Quite so, quite so," Grand said as he went down the stairs at the doctor’s heels. "I, too, believe in calling things by their name. But what’s the name in this case?"
"That I shan’t say, and anyhow you wouldn’t gain anything by knowing."
"You see," Grand smiled. "It’s not so easy, after all!" (1.6.5-8)
Rieux is entirely contradictory here. He claims we ought to call things by their name, but then refuses to do so a second later. We could write him off as hypocritical, but we can also read this passage in a way that makes sense. Rieux’s claim that "you wouldn’t gain anything by knowing" suggests that language is futile. Indeed, as he later explains, labeling the plague doesn’t mean anything per se. When he says he wants to "call this disease by its name," he wants to do so only to incite action. Since Grand isn’t the one who needs to be incited to action, indeed knowing the name "plague" would gain him nothing.
Rieux had already noticed Grand’s trick of professing to quote some turn of speech from "his part of the world" (he hailed from Montélimar), and following up with some such hackneyed expression as "lost in dreams," or "pretty as a picture." (1.6.11)
Grand, realizing the futility of the language he uses, tries to justify it with his geographical origins. Nice try, but no cigar.